SA calls for aid to be allowed into Sri Lanka

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pretoria -South Africa has called on the Sri Lankan government to urgently allow humanitarian aid into areas affected by violence, as well a access to international media.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Department of International Relations and Coordination expressed deep concern over weekend developments in Sri Lanka.

"The South African government expresses grave regret at the manner in which the military offensive was conducted and urges the United Nations Human Rights Commission [UNHCR] to urgently investigate possible violations of international human rights law and contraventions of the Geneva Convention," Deputy Foreign Minister Ehrahim Ebrahim said in a statement.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers, have fought for an independent state for minority Tamils in Sri Lanka since 1983. As many as 70 000 people have been killed since the civil war began, while 280 000 civilians were displaced.

At the weekend, the rebels decided to silence their guns as government forces closed in on their last stronghold.

Mr Ebrahim said he had hoped that the end of the military campaign would result in a peaceful dialogue with all minorities to address their long standing grievances.

He said South Africa would continue to support any efforts aimed at bringing about peace and reconciliation between the parties.

New restrictions on aid agencies, including a bar on entry for non-government vehicles, were imposed at the largest camp in Vavuniya district over the weekend, as the fighting reached its final climax.

Aid workers have said this is hindering their ability to deliver vital assistance to the displaced people inside.

UN aid agencies say they are being denied access to some camps for displaced people in northern Sri Lanka, hindering their ability to help Tamil civilians displaced by the recent fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels.

The UN refugee agency said the number of civilians who have fled the fighting in northern Sri Lanka over the last few months has now reached 280 000. This includes an estimated 80 000 people who have left the former combat zone in the last three days.

The UN refugee agency said it has put up 25 000 emergency shelters, and is putting up an additional 10 000, to accommodate the tens of thousands of civilians who have left the combat zone and are expected to arrive seeking shelter in the coming days.

UNHCR Spokesman, Ron Redmond, said the most immediate priority is to support the government in creating more space in the overcrowded camps to deliver essential services.

"Efforts, however, are being hampered by the sheer numbers of internally displaced, by the speed at which they have been arriving and the limited space that is available to accommodate them," said Ron Redmond.

"In addition, the restrictions to enter the IDP sites imposed by the authorities over the weekend are hindering UNHCR's ability to deliver assistance to the IDP sites."
Redmond says the government has not explained to his agency why it is limiting access to the displacement sites.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's reconciliation minister says elections will be held in areas affected by recent fighting once displaced people have been resettled.

Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, a former rebel commander who was known as Col Karuna, said the polls would address the grievances of the Tamil minority.